Spouse,

Daughter,

Father,

Best friend,

You get the idea.

A great question and a common one I tend to hear.

Over the years I’ve had a number of people ask how they get their spouse to exercise. They tell a story of how this person whom they care about immensely ‘should‘ and ‘need‘ to take care of their health.

This is where it gets tricky.

The  problem with a spouse or someone close to them suggesting a change in behaviour can come across as controlling on the receiving end.

“I think you should stop smoking.”

Most would agree that this is sound advice and a good recommendation for those trying to improve health but how often is it acted on?

“You know that person is smart enough to know the difference. They shouldn’t be doing that to themselves. Smoking shortens lives and affects health!”

The lifestyle change rarely has to do with intellect.

Some of you reading this may have had teenage years where ‘suggestions’ by a parent went something like this:

“Clean your room.”
“Eat you veggies.”
“Sit up straight.”
“Get to bed early.”
“Stop driving so fast.”

In retrospect that may now look like sound advice, but was probably perceived more like orders at that time. Some of you may actually be passing on this .. ahem .. advice to your kids.

Now my question is what would have happened if you had followed every single piece of your parent’s advice to the letter? Acted without questioning? Followed ‘orders’?

Answer: You would have become your parent!

This is followed with the high probability in acts of rebellion. Sound familiar?

Nobody, especially teenagers or young adults want to be identical to their parents regardless of how great you may think they are. If so – where is the individuation? Becoming an individual is a healthy and a normal part of growing up.
Most likely the reason why the first and second child are typically different in personalities. The second child tends to polarize off the first to differentiate from the first born. The first is clean and tidy while the second is messy. The first is studious and the second hates school work and so on.

Fast forward to the adult years. Your husband tells you,
“Don’t eat so much.”
“Watch your fat intake.”
“You need to exercise.”
“You should join the gym.”

Again this may be all solid advice and likely received differently if it came from a doctor, stranger or read it in a monthly magazine but coming from the husband !?
A different reception?
In most cases – I would say yes.
Is that somewhat childish to treat the same suggestions differently?
Maybe, but the sense of being an individual is strong. The ego is used to differentiate. That can trump the helpful advice.

“You Should” and “You Need”

The words need and should usually sets defensive alarms off when interjected in a suggestion.
Recommendations with that wording can take away the sense of who you are in the relationship. The dynamics in the relationship could change. The relationship could change.

The closer the relationship the harder it can be for the other person to take the advice. The rare situation where someone does posses a practical intellect then the advice is acted upon.

Obviously the wording of a suggestion will have a huge impact on whether the advice is heeded.

Telling you partner, “You should workout or you need to start exercising” comes across completely different than, “Would you like to workout with me? or “What do think about joining the gym?”

The later examples are posed as a question where the first can be perceived as an order and a form of control. Using it in a form of a question hands the control over to the other person thus increasing the likelihood of acting on the recommendation. They’ll feel like they have more ownership in the decision. They may even feel like they came up with the decision which would be great if your intention is altruistic.

Dropping questions can indeed spark someone’s action engine but another great way is to be a silent leader.

What do I mean by that?

You don’t have to be verbally reminding or telling someone what you think they should be doing.

You Be the Example.

You don’t have to verbalize this.
You wear it everyday.
You are the walking bill board for your actions.

The person you are trying to influence will notice – trust me.

Especially your kids. They are actually the easiest to influence by the example you set.

The seeds you plant with your questions and actions may not be acted upon immediately but in the weeks or months that follow those ‘seeds’ will begin to germinate.

Happy gardening. 😉